Italian-based European Trofeo Lamborghini squad Petri Corse Automobili is currently on the lookout for drivers for its 2022 campaign. And, it’s keen for New Zealanders.
The team and its boss, Simone Petri, is working with former Williams Touring Car Engineering team manager and Opel DTM sporting director Didier Debae. Having just departed New Zealand’s shores for a new home in Canada, Debae hopes to bring multiple young Kiwi drivers into the team’s line-up.
Interest in GT formulae has been on the rise in recent years, underlined by Germany’s flagship tin-top racing series, DTM, switching to GT3 regulations for the 2021 season. GT3 is also set to replace GTLM in America’s IMSA series in 2022.
Simultaneously, Kiwi drivers have made a name for themselves worldwide for their achievements in GT categories. Liam Lawson, Brendon Leitch, Earl Bamber, Brendon Hartley, and Jono Lester are among the Kiwis to star in GT racing around the world over the last few years.
“Trofeo Lamborghini is like a stepping stone,” Debae told VelocityNews.
“The cars are not the same [as GT3]. If you go from a Lamborghini Trofeo to a GT3, obviously the GT3 is much faster. But at the same time it’s the same sort of car, just a bit more sophisticated. There are definitely more and more people looking at it, and if you’re looking to race in Europe it’s a great option.
“I was looking at one of the races at Spa the other day, and there were 32 cars in Trofeo. DTM seems to be popular, and it’s using GT3 cars. The beauty of it with the GT3 formula is that you’ll be able to participate in so many championships, making it a very good thing to be involved with.
“And the opportunity you get with the Trofeo car is that you sort of get to have a first step into that GT world.”
On top of giving drivers a stepping stone to GT3, the Trofeo series also takes drivers to some of Europe’s most iconic tracks. Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, and Paul Ricard are all included in the category’s six-round 2022 calendar.
Petri Corse Automobili has a decorated past in Europe. It has previously fielded entries for the likes of British Touring Car Championship winner Fabrizio Giovanardi and DTM champion Nicola Larini. It’s a former winner of the European Trofeo Lamborghini title. And it’s also campaigned cars in the Italian Superstars Series and in Porsche Carrera Cup.
Debae has a stunning motorsport history himself. Having been a driver and team manager across Europe for the 1990s and a chunk of the 2000s, Debae managed Alain Menu’s stunning win of the 1997 BTCC crown with Williams. Prior to this he was team manager for, first, BMW’s Italian Touring Car campaign, then BMW’s German Touring Car campaign.
His familiarity with Kiwi racers spans several decades. A personal friend of two-time World Touring Car Cup winner Paul Radisich, Debae spent several years working as a operations manager and acting CEO for the V8 SuperTourers, before becoming the technical advisor for the NZ V8 Utes.
He’s also gained insight from his proximity to the Castrol Toyota Racing Series, citing it as a “Kiwi training camp” for future stars.
“Coming from a country where there’s not a lot of competition, it’s quite exceptional the amount of talent coming out. But I think it’s the will of getting out of New Zealand [to] prove that you’re better than people think you are, similar to David versus Goliath,” he said.
“I’ve seen, especially in being involved with the V8 SuperTourers, the rise of quite a few talented young Kiwi drivers. Shane van Gisbergen is one, but I think the biggest talent that’s come out of the country lately is definitely Scott McLaughlin.
“I remember sitting in the car for a hot lap with [McLaughlin], and I thought he was so relaxed and cool. He was going to be a great race car driver. That was at Hampton Downs years ago, and you can see what he became after that.
“There’s a lot of young Kiwis in Formula racing and GT racing as well, [like] Liam Lawson. There are even some who aren’t Kiwi drivers, but have gone through the Kiwi training camp of TRS. The likes of Lando Norris came out of that, and you can see where he is now, knocking on the door of his first win in Formula 1.”
Quizzed on what the perfect candidate for the Lamborghini seats would look like, Debae didn’t hesitate. “A mixture between Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen,” he laughed.
“They need to have a minimum of financial backing to make it happen. A season in Trofeo doesn’t cost that much. You’ve got two drivers in a car, and €125,000, which is reasonable for a car of that class.
“Ideally you want a driver that will be committed to work for the team. The difficulties for Kiwi drivers to come to Europe and do all the races is that you’ll probably have to live here. Going back and forwards is not an easy task.
“But, it opens the doors to a lot of things. You visit circuits in Italy, France, one in Belgium which is the best one in the world obviously, Spa-Francorchamps. And putting that on your CV is quite an important thing.
“You can do as much simulation as you want, but it’s not the same as being on the circuit.”